An α7-related nicotinic acetylcholine receptor mediates the ciliary arrest response in pharyngeal gill slits of Ciona

J Exp Biol. 2020 May 18;223(Pt 10):jeb209320. doi: 10.1242/jeb.209320.


Ciliary movement is a fundamental process to support animal life, and the movement pattern may be altered in response to external stimuli under the control of nervous systems. Juvenile and adult ascidians have ciliary arrays around their pharyngeal gill slits (stigmata), and continuous beating is interrupted for seconds by mechanical stimuli on other parts of the body. Although it has been suggested that neural transmission to evoke ciliary arrest is cholinergic, its molecular basis has not yet been elucidated in detail. Here, we attempted to clarify the molecular mechanisms underlying this neurociliary transmission in the model ascidian Ciona Acetylcholinesterase histochemical staining showed strong signals on the laterodistal ciliated cells of stigmata, hereafter referred to as trapezial cells. The direct administration of acetylcholine (ACh) and other agonists of nicotinic ACh receptors (nAChRs) onto ciliated cells reliably evoked ciliary arrest that persisted for seconds in a dose-dependent manner. While the Ciona genome encodes ten nAChRs, only one of these called nAChR-A7/8-1, a relative of vertebrate α7 nAChRs, was found to be expressed by trapezial cells. Exogenously expressed nAChR-A7/8-1 on Xenopus oocytes responded to ACh and other agonists with consistent pharmacological traits to those observed in vivo Further efforts to examine signaling downstream of this receptor revealed that an inhibitor of phospholipase C (PLC) hampered ACh-induced ciliary arrest. We propose that homomeric α7-related nAChR-A7/8-1 mediates neurociliary transmission in Ciona stigmata to elicit persistent ciliary arrest by recruiting intracellular Ca2+ signaling.

Keywords: Ascidians; Branchial sac; Ca2+ signaling; Cholinergic transmission; Ciliary movement; Tunicates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ciona intestinalis*
  • Ciona*
  • Gills
  • Receptors, Nicotinic*
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor


  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor